Linking Difference to Achieve Societal Health

We live in a diverse country at a time when difference is often denounced rather than celebrated. Many of us take issue with the dishonoring of diversity, and I would like to make a somewhat scientific case for celebrating diversity rather than censuring it. This case begins with studies in neurobiology that have found that integration is the key to well-being, with integration being defined as the linkage of differentiated areas of the brain. As integration occurs, each area of the brain does not change; each area, instead, links with other areas, holding on to its own properties, while linking with other areas that hold on to their own properties. Integration is NOT blending; each part remains itself and then links with others. Integration actually allows for differentiation to be there.

At a recent professional conference, I heard Dan Siegel, MD, speak about the relationship between integration, presence, and health. He spoke about study results that revealed that the best predictor of well-being is the linkage of the differentiated regions of the brain, or neural integration. Conversely, studies have also revealed that impaired well-being is related to the impaired integration of the brain. He discussed how neural integration is the mechanism beneath regulation which includes mood, emotion, thought, attention, behavior, relationships, and morality. He also indicated that integration catalyzes flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy, and stability. He talked about presence being a portal for integration to arise. And finally, he said that integration made visible is kindness and compassion.

The more differentiated areas get linked, the greater the consciousness. From a neurobiological standpoint, we know that mindfulness, being in the present moment without judgment and with lovingkindness, strengthens integration. And studies have indicated that the one behavioral variable specifically correlated with well-being is gratitude.

If we expand upon this neurobiological research we can begin to understand human society and relationships, including ethnic, cultural, racial, religious, societal class, and gender diversity, and predict what might lead to a healthier society. It has been said that the United States is a melting pot. The thought behind this phrase is that we are a country of immigrants who have blended together. But, what if instead of blending together, our nation is enriched as our brain is through a process of integration? What if we define integration of diverse people as differentiated parts being linked together? What if we celebrate diversity, allow people to be who they are, and then link everyone together? This works for the brain, why wouldn’t it work for our society? It makes sense that if from a neurobiological standpoint we are healthier when our brains are integrated, that our society would be healthier if its differentiated parts are linked and therefore integrated.

On an individual level, neurological integration leads to health and presence is a portal for integration to arise. Mindfulness strengthens integration and gratitude is the single most important behavioral predictor of well-being. On a societal level, then, through mindful presence and an acknowledgement, acceptance and allowance of diversity, we can link our differences and become an integrated society. I believe that will consequently lead to a healthier society with a greater sense of well-being for those of us who live here.

Marcia Kaufman, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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